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Lesbian EEOC appointment dies in Senate

GOP leaders allow Utah senator to block nomination of Chai Feldblum

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Chai Feldblum, gay news, Washington Blade

Chai Feldblum will not serve a third term at the EEOC. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The nomination of lesbian attorney Chai Feldblum for a third term on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission died in the Senate last week when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declined to allow a vote to break a hold placed on the nomination by a single senator.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in early December invoked a longstanding Senate rule that gives a single senator the ability to hold up and potentially kill a presidential nomination when he filed an official objection to Feldblum’s nomination on grounds that he disagrees with her record of support for LGBT rights.

Among other things, Lee cited what he said were Feldblum’s past statements and actions showing she has a bias against “religious freedom” principles as applied to employment law. Feldblum and her supporters have said Lee misinterpreted Feldblum’s positions on such issues, saying she has a deep respect for faith related matters as the daughter of an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi.

Lee’s objection came after President Donald Trump earlier in 2018 nominated Feldblum for a third term on the EEOC at the request of Senate Democrats as part of a longstanding bipartisan tradition of appointing EEOC members from both political parties. At the time he nominated Feldblum, a Democrat, Trump also nominated two others for the EEOC that were recommended by Senate Republicans.

Since the three nominees were submitted to the Senate as a package, Lee placed all three on hold. Similar to Feldblum’s nomination, Trump nominees Janet Dhillon and Daniel Gade, both Republicans, also died at the end of the Senate’s 2018 session for lack of a vote.

Feldblum, a nationally recognized civil rights attorney, told the Washington Blade this week that her supporters in the Senate told her they believed they had the 60 votes needed to break the hold placed on her and the other two nominees by Lee. But under Senate rules, such a vote could not take place unless it was arranged for by the majority party leadership, including Senate Majority Leader McConnell.

“Today at noon my commission on the EEOC expires,” Feldblum said in a Jan. 3 Facebook posting. “What a wonderful almost nine-year run I have had!” she said. “I will always be grateful for the wonderful colleagues I have served with on the Commission,” she continued.

“Thank you to everyone who worked so hard for my confirmation. We certainly gave it our best shot,” she said. “Now is the time to fight even harder for diversity, safety, and equity. There is no other way!”

Feldblum has been credited with playing a lead role in two pivotal EEOC rulings in support of LGBT employment rights.

In 2015 she was part of the 3-2 majority vote by the five-member EEOC that found that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation constitutes gender discrimination under Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In 2012, Feldblum was part of the EEOC’s unanimous ruling that employment discrimination against transgender people also violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“For nearly nine years Chai Feldblum worked tirelessly with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to uphold our nation’s civil rights laws,” said David Stacy, Director of Government Affairs for the Human Rights Campaign. “As a skilled attorney and public servant who has passionately advocated for equality under the law, Feldblum more than deserved to be confirmed for another term,” Stacy said.

“While Senate Democrats fought hard to move her nomination forward and she most certainly would have been confirmed with strong bipartisan support, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shamefully refused to schedule a vote,” Stacy said. “The blame for this disgraceful outcome falls squarely on the shoulders of Senator Lee and Senate Majority Leader McConnell.”

Elliot Imse, Senior Director of Communications for the LGBTQ Victory Institute, which advocates for the election and appointment of LGBT people for public office, said it was the “height of irony and absolutely unconscionable” that Feldblum was removed from her position at the EEOC because she is a lesbian.

“Mike Lee is a bigot, period, and his actions must be condemned by all members of Congress who believe LGBTQ Americans have the right to work free of discrimination,” Imse said.

Spokespersons for Lee and McConnell couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

In comments on the Senate floor last month expressing his opposition to Feldblum’s nomination Lee stated, “Ms. Feldblum has written that she sees a conflict between religious belief and LGBT liberty as ‘a zero sum game’ where ‘a gain for one side necessarily entails a corresponding loss for the other side.”

Feldblum has called  this characterization inaccurate and misleading, saying that while nondiscrimination laws must prevail in cases involving employers doing business with the general public, such laws could place burdens on religious exercise and that “government should err on the side of accepting” such a burden could exist.

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The White House

White House, Don’t Say Gay law: “This is discrimination, plain and simple”

“State officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves”

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (The White House)

WASHINGTON – The White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre released a statement Friday as Florida’s notorious ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law took effect, saying “[…] state officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves.”

President Biden also tweeted about the law prior to leaving for Camp David to spend the July 4th holiday weekend, calling the law “the latest attempt by Republicans in state houses to target LGBTQI+ students, teachers, and families.”

In her statement, Jean-Pierre said:

“Today, some of Florida’s most vulnerable students and families are more fearful and less free. As the state’s shameful “Don’t Say Gay” law takes effect, state officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves.

“Already, there have been reports that “Safe Space” stickers are being taken down from classrooms. Teachers are being instructed not to wear rainbow clothing. LGBTQI+ teachers are being told to take down family photos of their husbands and wives—cherished family photos like the ones on my own desk.

“This is not an issue of “parents’ rights.” This is discrimination, plain and simple. It’s part of a disturbing and dangerous nationwide trend of right-wing politicians cynically targeting LGBTQI+ students, educators, and individuals to score political points.

“It encourages bullying and threatens students’ mental health, physical safety, and well-being. It censors dedicated teachers and educators who want to do the right thing and support their students. And it must stop.

“President Biden has been very clear that every student deserves to feel safe and welcome in the classroom.

“The Department of Education will be monitoring this law, and any student or parent who believes they are experiencing discrimination is encouraged to file a complaint with the Department’s Office for Civil Rights.

“Our Administration will continue to fight for dignity and opportunity for every student and family—in Florida and around the country.”

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Florida

Florida county’s school policy critics say “essentially targets LGBTQ+ kids”

“Sending out a parent notification could be seen as placing a target on a student’s back,” said Lauren Kelly-Manders, a Tallahassee resident

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Screenshot/YouTube students in a classroom generic news coverage

TALLAHASSEE – The Leon County School Board this week unanimously approved its “LGBTQ Inclusive School Guide” after a rancorous and at times heated debate Tuesday. At the heart of the new policy are guidelines that critics charge will harm LGBTQ+ youth in the school system.

The Tallahassee Democrat newspaper reported what drew the most debate was a provision that a school will notify parents — by form — if a student who is “open about their gender identity” is in a physical education class or on an overnight trip. 

Some teachers and students during the Tuesday night meeting said the policy will “out” LGBTQ+ students — revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity without their permission. 

While the policy language does explicitly say a student’s sexual orientation, gender identity or expression “should not be shared with others without their input and permission,”  advocacy groups and activists claim that in “real world” application the policy’s danger to Outing LGBTQ+ kids remains regardless.

Los Angeles-based writer and actor Benjamin Siemon took to Twitter angrily noting that the policy “essentially paints these children as sex offenders that require warnings.”

Supporters of the school board’s new policy included the Leon County chapter of Mom’s for Liberty, a national far-right anti-LGBTQ+ activist group which has sought to ban LGBTQ+ books and curriculum nationwide. But the sticking point for the group is the provision doesn’t go far enough.

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Sharyn Kerwin, head of the Leon County chapter of Mom’s for Liberty and who also served on the advisory committee to the School board as it crafted the new policy, told board members and the audience Tuesday: “Any attempt to withhold information from a parent or try to influence a child in a knowing way is against Florida law.”

Kerwin and other parents argued that the Parental Rights in Education bill, HB 1557, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” law requires school administrators to notify parents and many in the audience Tuesday citing biblical verses maintained discussions about sexual orientation have no place in schools.

Opponents charge that this policy will effectively weaponize bigotry and target LGBTQ+ kids, especially trans youth.

Critics of the notification policy say the district’s language is equating “gender identity” with LGBTQ sexuality. They note that even someone who is “straight” expresses themselves via their clothing choices or appearance and can be “open about their gender identity,” the Tallahassee Democrat noted.

“Sending out a parent notification could be seen as placing a target on a student’s back,” said Lauren Kelly-Manders, a Tallahassee resident. 

In the end, even with the policy approved, none were happy with the outcome as one side claiming not enough consideration was given to parental rights and opponents charging this will simply increase bullying of LGBTQ+ kids.

“Normally when we have something on the agenda, we have a group that’s for, and a group that’s against,” school board Vice Chair Alva Striplin noted adding, “Well, tonight we had everyone against.”

The school board voted to approve the guide unanimously 4-0.  According to the Tallahassee Democrat school board members will schedule another meeting to revisit the guide in six months to adjust the policy if needed. 

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The White House

White House announces 17 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients

The nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom will be presented to those named at the White House on July 7, 2022

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Megan Rapinoe, an Out Olympic gold medalist is among those named ((Screenshot/YouTube via U.S. Soccer )

WASHINGTON – The White House today released President Joe Biden’s selection of recipients for bestowing the nation’s highest civilian honor,  the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The awards will be presented at the White House on July 7, 2022.

Included among the seventeen honorees are Megan Rapinoe, the Out Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women’s World Cup champion. She also captains OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League. She is a prominent advocate for gender pay equality, racial justice, and LGBTQI+ rights.

Also selected by the president for a posthumous recognition was Richard Trumka, the powerful labor leader and longtime Democratic ally of the LGBTQ+ community who passed away last August. Trumka had led the AFL-CIO since 2009 and who throughout his career, was an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ Americans, social and economic justice.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors.

Presidential Medal of Freedom (The White House)

The following individuals will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom:

Simone Biles
Simone Biles is the most decorated American gymnast in history, with a combined total of 32 Olympic and World Championship medals. Biles is also a prominent advocate for athletes’ mental health and safety, children in the foster care system, and victims of sexual assault.

Sister Simone Campbell
Sister Simone Campbell is a member of the Sisters of Social Service and former Executive Director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice organization. She is also a prominent advocate for economic justice, immigration reform, and healthcare policy.

Julieta García
Dr. Julieta García is the former president of The University of Texas at Brownsville, where she was named one of Time magazine’s best college presidents. Dr. García was the first Hispanic woman to serve as a college president and dedicated her career to serving students from the Southwest Border region.

Gabrielle Giffords
Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was the youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona State Senate, serving first in the Arizona legislature and later in the U.S. Congress. A survivor of gun violence, she co-founded Giffords, a nonprofit organization dedicated to gun violence prevention.

Fred Gray
Fred Gray was one of the first black members of the Alabama State legislature since Reconstruction. As an attorney, he represented Rosa Parks, the NAACP, and Martin Luther King, who called him “the chief counsel for the protest movement.”

Steve Jobs (posthumous)
Steve Jobs (d. 2011) was the co-founder, chief executive, and chair of Apple, Inc., CEO of Pixar and held a leading role at the Walt Disney Company. His vision, imagination and creativity led to inventions that have, and continue to, change the way the world communicates, as well as transforming the computer, music, film and wireless industries.

Father Alexander Karloutsos
Father Alexander Karloutsos is the former Vicar General of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. After over 50 years as a priest, providing counsel to several U.S. presidents, he was named by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as a Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Khizr Khan
Khizr Khan is a Gold Star father and founder of the Constitution Literacy and National Unity Center. He is a prominent advocate for the rule of law and religious freedom and served on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom under President Biden.

Sandra Lindsay
Sandra Lindsay is a New York critical care nurse who served on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic response. She was the first American to receive a COVID-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials and is a prominent advocate for vaccines and mental health for health care workers.

John McCain (posthumous)
John McCain (d. 2018) was a public servant who was awarded a Purple Heart with one gold star for his service in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam. He also served the people of Arizona for decades in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate and was the Republican nominee for president in 2008.

Diane Nash
Diane Nash is a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who organized some of the most important civil rights campaigns of the 20th century. Nash worked closely with Martin Luther King, who described her as the “driving spirit in the nonviolent assault on segregation at lunch counters.”

Megan Rapinoe
Megan Rapinoe is an Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women’s World Cup champion. She also captains OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League. She is a prominent advocate for gender pay equality, racial justice, and LGBTQI+ rights.

Alan Simpson
Alan Simpson served as a U.S. Senator from Wyoming for 18 years. During his public service, he has been a prominent advocate on issues including campaign finance reform, responsible governance, and marriage equality.

Richard Trumka (posthumous)
Richard Trumka (d. 2021) was president of the 12.5-million-member AFL-CIO for more than a decade, president of the United Mine Workers, and secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. Throughout his career, he was an outspoken advocate for social and economic justice.

Wilma Vaught
Brigadier General Wilma Vaught is one of the most decorated women in the history of the U.S. military, repeatedly breaking gender barriers as she rose through the ranks. When she retired in 1985, she was one of only seven women generals in the Armed Forces.

Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington is an actor, director, and producer who has won two Academy Awards, a Tony Award, two Golden Globes, and the 2016 Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also served as National Spokesman for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America for over 25 years.

Raúl Yzaguirre
Raúl Yzaguirre is a civil rights advocate who served as CEO and president of National Council of La Raza for thirty years. He also served as U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic under President Barack Obama.

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